Spiritual experiences in and of themselves shouldn’t be cause for admission to mental hospitals, but in mainstream Western consciousness, they may become such. It seems as though we either turn someone having unexplained spiritual experiences into mystics, or into crazy people. Ram Das Batchelder has gone to both places before finding a more healthy and humble context for his spiritual growth, as he narrates in his book “Rising in Love: My Wild and Crazy Ride to Here and Now with Amma, the Hugging Saint”.
Eastern philosophy, distilled from experiential wisdom by saints and sages over millennia, understands that if you are having spiritual experiences that you cannot explain, most likely you are neither the next great saint nor in need of institutionalization. You’re just experiencing something that is natural to the human condition on the journey back to oneness. It advises that the best thing you can do for yourself is get a guide – someone who has moved through such experiences and reached the goal of existence, which is enlightenment. With this guidance, you can ensure your spiritual growth unfolds in a way that is timely and balanced for you, and avoid the dangers of being deluded by experiences that are not grounded. “Rising in Love” seeks to help bridge the gap from Eastern knowledge to our Western understanding, in the hopes that others do not need to undergo the same difficulties Ram Das did.
Ram Das has a background in acting and is a gifted poet and playwright, with an excellent sense of pacing. He starts “Rising in Love” in the middle of his story, when he meets his teacher Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi Devi). Only after we are already intrigued and inspired does he take us back to the beginning of his story and relate an earlier descent into drugs and madness – a descent fueled in part by spiritual experience but distorted by ignorance and ego. While it’s sometimes challenging to read, straddling the line between spiritual awakening and insanity, Ram Das tells the story with gentleness and humor. It seems apparent that in his years on the spiritual path since then, he’s been “cooked” by the fires of transformation, with no interest in trying to hide or distort his story to make himself look better. That said, readers used to sweet stories of saintlike devotion and purity should be prepared: his journey is every bit the wild and crazy ride the title promises.
That’s why “Rising in Love” is useful reading for anyone who feels that they can safely engage in the use of psychoactive drugs in the context of a spiritual path, or that they are already enlightened and need no guidance. As Ram Das himself says, the highs he experienced through marijuana use, even though they seemed to impress others and bring him closer to God at the time, only caused harm. He eventually sank into depression and almost took his life before quitting the drugs for good. From there, he went on to seek oneness with the Divine through the wiser means of meditation and service.
Ram Das then met Amma on one of her first tours of the US, and accepted her as his guru. He soon moved to India to be around her as much as possible, cultivating a deep connection and experiencing subtle guidance in his practice as well as a few hard ego-knocks. He ultimately married a fellow Amma devotee (their courtship, marriage and the challenges they faced together as a couple are included in the book and are valuable reading for anyone contemplating a spiritual partnership) and they now divide their time between serving at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri and operating guided tours in India. He continues to write stories and poems that relate spiritual concepts in an approachable and often hilarious manner. Attendees of Amma’s programs will recognize the children’s books “You Are The King” and “The Awakening of Wendy the Wave”, often available for sale at the bookstores there. Originally written for his niece and nephew, these books are a way to help younger readers understand the spiritual truths he has learned and touch the real value of this life. “Rising in Love” extends this offering to adults. This humble offering under the O-Books imprint raises funds for Amma’s orphanages, and deserves to be read broadly. It’s the kind outstretched hand of a friend on the journey – one who’s been through some crazy stuff and lived to tell.